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The left in power

The victory of Gustavo Petro in Colombia’s presidential election constitutes an unprecedented event in a country in which no left-wing political party (not even a centre one) has ever managed to win elections and in which any person or group that could threaten the existing order is systematically killed.


Gustavo Petro Urrego. Photo Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Juan Diego Garcia


The severe crisis of the Colombian social order – surely intensified by the collapse of the current neoliberal system – would explain why a centre-left formation like the Historic Pact for Colombia has managed to win the presidency and gain the largest popular representation in its history in parliament.

In this context, further understanding should be attained not only of the moderation of Petro’s programme but also of his alliances that include various manifestations of the traditional left, quite significant popular movements and centrist sectors from which personalities who, until yesterday, were part of the so-called the traditional “political class” stand out.

The Colombian Liberal Party itself, in the words of its foremost leader, has decided to support Petro’s moderate programme and accept his call for a sort of great national alliance for change.

With this, and other similar support, a favourable coalition of forces is guaranteed in parliament as well as the possibility of promoting laws that fundamentally modernise and promote the democratisation of the country’s social order.

A democratisation that would include an oft promised and always aborted agrarian reform, a radical change in the political system that is so primitive and violent, the promotion of a new economic model that allows the internal market to recover and a truly independent foreign policy that makes the real exercise of national sovereignty possible, among other measures.

These are measures that as a whole materialise “vivir sabroso” / “living joyfully” (one of the central slogans of the Historic Pact, created by its current vice president Francia Márquez) and that means achieving peace and coexistence in the national community, concepts absent today in Colombia. Above all, Petro has to ensure an agreement with two central wielders of real power in the country: the armed forces (military and police) and big capital (national and foreign) because simply having the government is not a sufficient guarantee.

In general terms, reaching an agreement with these key players guarantees being able to carry out the unfulfilled peace agreement with the demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and do the same with the groups that persist in the conflict (especially the National Liberation Army (ELN), which has already expressed its willingness to dialogue).

However, returning the land to the workers and modernising agriculture will meet the opposition of the rural capital associations, both the modern ones (large national and foreign companies) and the traditional ones of extensive cattle ranching and land-grabbing.

This opposition will not only be political but also armed – as it has been up to now – making the support of the military and police for the new government a key issue.

In reality, the military and police have sufficient resources to neutralise violent actions that seek to prevent agrarian reform. Petro has to get that support, without which it will be very difficult to pacify the rural areas. The same thing applies in relation to measures that seek to overcome insecurity in urban centres.

If there is a large majority in the legislative power and the sincere support of the army, it is realistic to think that the new government can promote substantial reforms of the judiciary and of the State as a whole.

A more complicated matter will be managing the opposition of big local and international capital that constitutes the very basis of the current economic model and that finances and supports the traditional political forces.

This challenge is decisive and requires the new government not only to secure sufficient institutional support but, above all, the broad support of the popular sectors.

Petro will have to negotiate his measures taking advantage of the real correlation of forces that is generated, that is, acting without hurry but without giving up any possible progress.

For example, the central measures to finance his government programme involve a radical reform of the tax system, simply by applying the universally principle according to which “whoever earns the most, pays the most”, with all the nuances that reality always demands.

It is also about thoroughly combating the current corruption in the administration of public money, which among other things constitutes the mainstay of traditional politics.

Strengthening the public sector of the economy to achieve a decisive role in the factors that drive the economy, would give the new government enormous possibilities to begin dismantling the current neoliberal order and lay the foundations for a new order, one that allows Colombia to enter fully into modernity and make the exercise of sovereignty effective.

Petro can build an alliance with many sectors of national production, in particular with those most affected by the neoliberal policies of free trade (the “economic opening”).

These are companies – especially medium and small businesses – whose main objective is the local market.

Of course, none of this excludes the promotion of exports, as long as certain trade balances are respected and, above all, the current condition of ordinary exporters of unprocessed raw materials and merchandise with little added value is overcome.

In this perspective, the new government must bet boldly on regional integration no less than on the multiplication and diversification of the country’s foreign relations, particularly with the new powers of the international market (China, above all). A policy of protectionism in the current conditions is an objective that cannot be renounced and that is in no way incompatible with the goal of achieving a different role for the country in the global economic and political fabric.

(Translated by Hannah Phelvin) – Fotos: Pixabay

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